IMG_0566-0.JPGIt was a busy Wednesday, Christmas Eve, and when I talked to Clint the manager of the meat department, he said that they were totally out of the proper cut for Beef Wellington (filet mignon) and the substitute piece I might have used was not something he could recommend.

So I bought a big chunk of boneless leg of lamb.

Kind of a drag, as Beef Wellington had been my plan and lamb…good as it could be, simply carried so much less…drama. Later that day, my wife who had gotten off work early, texted me and in the course of our communication, revealed she was near to a butcher shop. Before you knew it, she had grabbed about 3.25 lbs of prime beef tenderloin which the meat man said would be perfect for the dish…

But he didn’t tell me everything.

When Angela got home, she had a huge monster piece of tenderloin that cost over $60 but…well…was so huge. A monster. Given that I wasn’t greatly familiar with English cookery, I noted how much bigger it was than the piece I had seen in the online video done by Gordon Ramsay. It was easily 2-3x the size of what I’d seen made, but…I didn’t know better.

I would be totally super sizing my take on Beef Wellington. Not a corner grocery store. It would be a Costco-sized piece. All this percolated in the back of my brain as I started to imagine making the dish with a piece of meat that size. It only occurred to me subconsciously that I could have taken the fillet and removed at least half of it for some other meal and still would have had a sumptuous feast.

Still–that was only the first problem.

I proceeded apace this afternoon, first by searing the meat on all its sides in the skillet, turning and browning it handily all over with a pair of tongs. I put the meat aside into the fridge to rest, and started on the next step: taking a pound and a half of cremini mushrooms and pulverizing them in the food processor, then cooking them down to relative dryness in the pan till it had that consistency of dried hummus. Perfect. I put that aside.

Beef Wellington is constructed in this manner. You have the seared, browned meat in the center which is surrounded by duxelles (cooked, seasoned mushrooms) which in turn is wrapped with prosciutto which is then wrapped once again with puff pastry. It takes considerable skill and luck to get the exterior browned and the meat inside cooked to a hoped-for perfect rare to medium rare without the crust burning black or, more plainly, the meat getting cooked to well-done.

I actually started out by removing as much fat as possible from the sides of the piece of tenderloin, which required my removing the thin netting that held the loin together. Before I seared the meat, I retied the tenderloin with kitchen string to prevent it falling apart. This went well.
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After putting all the mushrooms into the food processor, I added some salt and pepper and a tad of garlic and cooked these in a bit of olive oil until most of the liquid was gone. I splashed a bit of white wine into it as an afterthought and continued to cook it down.

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Once removed, I slathered the meat with a heavy layer of Dijon mustard and put that aside.

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Next, laying out a sheet of cling plastic on a cutting board, I carefully layered pieces of prosciutto down on the plastic which roughly covered an area large enough to surround the meat when wrapped, and covered the plastic with the duxelles mixture, and rolled it up carefully around the tenderloin.

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This, too, went into the refrigerator to chill for a few minutes until finally, the last layer would be attached: the puff pastry. I laid out more plastic sheeting, laid the puff pastry down, and after removing the plastic from the wrapped piece of meat, rolled it all up again with the puff pastry.

I sweated out a pound of wet during this process, I was so nervous.

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I added a few slits to the top so that steam might escape during the cooking process and finished it with an egg and milk wash. The whole uncooked dish went into the fridge to rest and await the perfect timing that would allow the mashed potatoes and parsnips to finish cooking at the same time as the asparagus.

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It all came out at the same time, and just before I put the Wellington into the oven to cook at the 400F, I noticed that my digital thermometer wasn’t working.

I no longer had a digital connection to the interior of the meat dish, so how could I know when it would be done? At 125F I knew I’d be pretty close, but with no info, I had to rely completely on the generally recognized amounts of time to reach ‘medium rare’ would take for a 3 lb piece of meat.

The puff pastry browned beautifully, but I decided to give it another 10 minutes or so just to be sure, given how much bigger this ‘FrankenWellington’ appeared to be. And a good thing.

While it looked fabulous, simply resting there for ten minutes…

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…was it cooked properly? I busied myself with cooking the mash and pressure cooking the asparagus and my wife set the table. We put the Beef Wellington onto the table. I started to saw away at the monster. The first slice only revealed the edge and the mushroom mixture. Hadn’t hit the meat yet. I continued slicing. And…omigawd….

Perfectly medium rare. Juicy red, perfect crust of pastry shell, and flavorful mushrooms. I was deliriously happy, and a few minutes later when we all sat down to eat and I took my first bite, I was floored how fantastic it tasted.

Dessert followed swiftly…a quick Jacques Pepin country apple galette which I opted to place in a rectangular tart pan for presentation purposes. Slightly over-browned perhaps, but delicious all in all.

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It was a glorious meal made superb by company including my daughter, friends Astrid and Bruno, and my faithful wife.

Merry Christmas, each and everyone of us!

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